In an overnight attack in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, at least six fighters and four security officials lost their lives, according to Jan Achakzai, the provincial information minister. The assailants, allegedly belonging to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), targeted military and security installations in the city of Mach, located 65 kilometres south of Balochistan’s capital, Quetta.
As the attackers faced resistance, they shifted their focus to less secure areas, particularly the Mach police station. The BLA later claimed responsibility, stating that its “freedom fighters” conducted the operation.
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and least populated province, has witnessed a long-standing rebellion with accusations against the government for neglecting residents and for uneven resource distribution.
Shuja Kasi, the inspector general for prisons in Balochistan, reported minor damage to the police station and adjoining prison. Fortunately, all 800 inmates, including 90 on death row, were safe. The decades-old rebel movement in Balochistan has targeted Pakistani security forces and Chinese citizens working on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), triggering forceful responses from the Pakistani state.
The rebel movement alleges human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and disappearances of ethnic Baloch individuals supporting the rebellion. The attack occurred amid global attention on Balochistan following an Iranian airstrike and a month-long sit-in by Baloch people in Islamabad.
Last month, Iranian forces struck inside Pakistani territory, leading to a retaliatory attack by Pakistan. Baloch protesters, dissatisfied with conditions in Balochistan, moved to Islamabad for a sit-in. As Pakistan gears up for its general election on February 8, security analysts caution that Baloch separatists have already denounced the polls.
Iftikhar Firdous, an analyst and founding editor for The Khorasan Diary, emphasized the strategic timing of the BLA attack. Firdous stated that the incident suggests that while diplomatic efforts are ongoing, actions at the borders will shape the future course of the conflict.
The Baloch separatists, notably the BLA, have consistently targeted election campaigns and party meetings, though the extent of these attacks has generally been limited to corner meetings and election offices. As the situation unfolds, the incident in Balochistan underscores the complex and volatile dynamics in the region, with implications for both domestic stability and international relations.